Allergies: Part 1

Identifying potential food allergens can help you avoid them.

We hear a lot about allergies and we know they are very important to pay attention to so we can keep people safe. There are eight foods that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has identified as potential food allergens. They are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and soybeans. These are not the only foods that can cause allergies but they are the most common.

It is also important to know that some people are so highly allergic that they have to avoid any contact with the allergen in any form. This includes avoiding foods where the allergen is used as an additive and avoiding food items produced at the same factory as other products that contain the allergen. This is one of the reasons why labeling is so important on all processed foods. Allergens must be listed at the bottom of food labels, separate to other information.

The ingredient in a food that causes an allergic reaction is the protein. Protein cannot be cooked or heated out of a food or food source. So it is important to understand that if you serve food to a person that has an allergy to shellfish, the oil that you use to cook the shellfish in still and always will contain the protein that caused the allergen. You cannot then cook French fries in that same oil because the protein will adhere to the fries and contaminate them. This would put a person allergic to shellfish in danger.

An allergic reaction looks and feels dangerous. Depending on the extent of the allergy, which can become deadly without much warning. Signs include:

  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Swelling of the face or mouth
  • Vomiting or diarrhea or both
  • Coughing, wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Tingling sensation

Anyone that is highly allergic will carry what is called an EpiPen, this should be administered only by a person that knows how to use it. Michigan State University Extension suggests to always call for medical help immediately if anyone shows any of these symptoms. The EpiPen is only a temporary fix. Part 2 of this series will we will focus on preventing the cross-contamination of food allergens.

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